In their second appearance at the World Cup, Afghanistan is the tenth ranked team of ten. In their first, in 2015, they went winless, so a lot of people think that they will go through 2019 without winning a match either. Such is the rise in Afghanistan cricket that even just four years later they are a very different side.
In fact, Afghanistan has been steadily improving every year since cricket came to them with a bang about the time of 9/11, when troops stationed in Afghanistan helped to teach the locals about the game of cricket. Afghanistan had always played cricket a little bit, especially due to their border with Pakistan, but the surge in interest and improvement at that time, and ever since, was tremendous. Pakistan too became more heavily involved in Afghanistan cricket, but make no mistake that this team is not made up of English or Pakistani ex-pats. Unlike many of the other associate teams, this team is 100% Afghan, and that is a big part of what makes them so strong.
In the qualifying tournament, Afghanistan was all but out of the tournament. They would end up beating fellow qualifiers West Indies twice but still needed to have everything go their way to qualify ahead of Zimbabwe and Scotland. Eventually, the cards fell there way in a fairytale ending reminiscent of Australia’s run in the 1999 World Cup.
Afghanistan won’t win the 2019 World Cup, though, as their improvement level isn’t that good yet, but maybe in two or three World Cups from now, they might be a chance.
FIVE FEARLESS PREDICTIONS
1. Rashid Khan will be Afghanistan’s leading bowler
He was ranked number 1 in ODI and T20I cricket some time ago and will be devastating, but I don’t think he will be the best in this entire competition. Not in England, but he will be right up there. His experience in international cricket he IPL, and other tournaments around the world, means that he is not going to be intimidated by big stars – nor will many in this team, and he is going to be a serious threat. Think Ajantha Mendis in his heydey level.
2. Afghanistan won’t go winless
While I can’t guarantee who they will beat, I will note that they have beaten West Indies and Bangladesh regularly of late, and Sri Lanka may fall to them too. It is possible that they could even upset Pakistan or New Zealand too, and maybe even one of the four who are expected to qualify for the semi-finals (England, India, Australia, and South Africa). You never know.
3. We will learn a lot about the Afghani players.
We will see them play in nine matches throughout the tournament and by the end of it, it won’t just be Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi that we all know. Mohammad Shahzad was the first star of Afghan cricket, and he is there too, as is the big-hitting Hazratullah Zazai while Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Najibullah Zadran already have some level of international exposure.
Expect us to learn a lot more about all of them.
4. They won’t be beaten without a fight.
While the thought of Afghanistan beating a team like India, England or even Australia at this tournament seems farcical. Don’t expect them to be big 400 runs to 100 drubbings or for Afghanistan to be bowled out for 20 then have the runs scored in 5 overs too often.
It might happen once but most games expect them to fight it out right until the end, much like any other team would. This is a professional outfit who are going to threaten, challenge or at the very least be up there. If they keep improving at the rate they have been, they may well win a World Cup in the next two or three editions, and so they will want to see themselves get to the last over with 20 to get or make a team wait until the last over before hitting the winning runs. They will not go down without a fight.
5. There won’t be an Afghani Fairytale.
They won’t make the semi-finals.
With all of the hype surrounding this team it’d be nice to think that they can go all the way but there is no calculation or permutation that allows that. It is theoretically possible, of course, but it just won’t happen. They’d need six wins to make it and the expectation is one to two, with three wins if absolutely everything goes right.
Four is possible, though unlikely, and five wins would be that dream run that I just can’t see happening. To get six would be ridiculous, and absurd, and would be a lot harder to achieve than those one-off wins that the likes of Ireland, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and even Kenya achieved in previous editions. While Afghanistan might get a one-off miracle win, maybe even against a team like England or India, but they won’t get lots of them. It’s just not going to happen.
Afghanistan 2019 World Cup Fixture.
While Afghanistan’s two best chances for victory come in matches seven and nine, they will relish the opportunity to take on the world’s best. They will give themselves every chance of upsetting Australia in their competition opener and will attempt to rain on England’s parade at Old Trafford.
take on Australia in their competition opener and potentially rain on England’s parade at Old Trafford.
Eighth (Two wins/Seven losses).
Predicted wins: West Indies, Bangladesh.
Best bowler: Rashid Khan
Best batsman: Mohammad Shahzad